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Despite missile tests, Pompeo hopeful North Korea talks will resume in weeks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday he was hopeful denuclearisation talks would resume between North Korea and the United States soon, in spite of repeated North Korean missile tests and the lengthening delay in restarting the talks.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“We are hopeful that in the coming weeks we will get back to the negotiating table,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department. “We are planning for negotiations in a couple of weeks and we anticipate the two teams getting back together.”

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed at a June 30 meeting to resume talks between working-level officials stalled since a failed summit in Hanoi in February. Since then, North Korea has conducted a series of short-range missiles tests.

Pompeo has suggested several times since the Trump-Kim meeting that talks were imminent, first saying on June 30 they would probably take place in two or three weeks.

But the mood has soured, with North Korea warning that plans for U.S.-South Korea military exercises this month could derail dialogue.

North Korea has repeatedly tested short-range ballistic missiles and warned of a possible end to its freeze of nuclear and long-range missile tests in place since 2017. Trump has repeatedly held up that freeze as evidence of the success of more than a year of engagement with Kim.

On Wednesday, North Korea state media said Kim had said the launch of tactical guided missiles on Tuesday was a warning to the United States and South Korea over their joint military drills, which began this week.

Trump and his administration have sought to play down the launches, saying they do not violate a pledge by Kim to not resume nuclear and long-range tests.

“We watched the actions they are taking, the actions that are taking place inside North Korea,” Pompeo said. “And we are mindful that when we came in there was nuclear testing taking place.

“That has not occurred,” Pompeo said. “There are not long-range missiles being fired. Those are both good things.”

“Now the task is for us to deliver on what the two leaders agreed to back in June of last year in Singapore,” Pompeo added, referring to the first summit between Kim and Trump.

In Singapore, Kim pledged to work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, and the two sides agreed to forge a new era of relations. Trump also pledged a suspension of major military exercises with South Korea.

There have been few concrete results since, with the Hanoi summit collapsing over a failure to narrow differences over U.S. demands for North Korea to give up all of its nuclear weapons and Pyongyang’s demands for relief from punishing sanctions.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler